Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells on the face
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells on the face

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells on the face, allowing them to be wiped away easily, revealing smoother and younger skin. It is a common face ointment for most women aged 30-35 years. Now, the important thing to remember is, glycolic acid comes in various concentrations.

It is OK to use 1-2% containing glycolic acid face wash or ointments daily. The creams have a higher glycolic acid content (10% and above) and must only be used once or twice a week to avoid skin irritation. The creams with a concentration above 15% may need to be kept only for a few minutes and then wiped off.

Any cleanser with a glycolic acid content of more than 20% should be used under professional guidance. Using these products at home may cause complications, such as severe skin rash or even skin burn.

Before using a concentration of 10% glycolic acid product for daily application, we recommend first trying it on the inner side of your elbow and checking for any reaction in the first 24 hours. Initially, you can start with a lower concentration, such as 5%, and graduate slowly to the higher one. Always apply Vaseline around your eye area to prevent irritation to the sensitive under-eye skin.

If you do not face any skin reaction or irritation and want quick results, you can use 10% glycolic acid products 5 days a week. You can leave it on your face overnight and let it absorb into your skin. Wash it out the next day with water. However, remember that this can cause sun sensitivity and even aggravate acne in a few cases.

What is the role of glycolic acid in skincare?

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring fruit acid belonging to the group of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). It is derived from sugarcane. Being the smallest alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), glycolic acid can easily penetrate the skin and function effectively. Glycolic acid mostly suits everyone with oily and acne-prone skin. Its regular use in the skincare regime comes with the following benefits:

  • Exfoliation:

Dead skin cells pile up on the top layer of your skin over time and make your skin look dull. This process increases with aging and due to frequent exposure to the sun. Glycolic acid clears up this layer of dead cells, speeds up the skin renewal process, and smoothens your skin.

Glycolic acid improves the collagen content of your skin, thickens the outer layer of your skin, and acts as anti-aging. It makes the skin appear plumper and even in texture.

Glycolic acid acts as an anti-clogging agent by clearing up the excess oil and dead cells that block the pores of the skin. It also has minor action against Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that causes acne. These actions help in preventing further acne breakouts.

  • Skin lightening:

Glycolic acid clears the uneven pigmentation, lightens your skin, and reveals your natural color.

  • Better absorption of other skincare products:

Glycolic acid preps your skin and boosts the absorption of other skincare products, such as acne creams, serums, skin lighteners, and moisturizers.

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What ingredients should be avoided with glycolic acid?

Some ingredients are better not to be used in combination with glycolic acid. These include:

  • Vitamin C: Mixing vitamin C with glycolic acid renders vitamin C useless because glycolic acid interferes with its efficacy.
  • Vitamin B3: Vitamin B3 would not work well if combined with glycolic acid. Glycolic acid’s lower pH hampers the activity of vitamin B3, which requires a neutral pH to work.
  • Retinol: It can increase skin sensitivity and sun sensitivity because of glycolic acid.

Are there any side effects of glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a safe and effective AHA used as at-home skincare products. The possible side effects include:

  • Extreme dryness. Your skin may become dry after a few days of glycolic acid application. Follow up with a good moisturizer.
  • Photosensitivity. Exfoliation with glycolic acid makes your skin to get tanned when exposed to the sun. Avoid applying it on days when you think you may need to stay in the sun for long periods. Always wear sunscreen during the daytime, especially when you venture out.
  • Mild skin irritation. This usually goes away once your skin gets used to it over some time.

If you have additional concerns regarding your skin, do not hesitate to consult a dermatologist. A dermatologist will plan a customized treatment plan and recommend you the most appropriate products for your skin troubles.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/12/2021
References
Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skin. Molecules. 2018;23(4):863. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29642579/

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Alpha Hydroxy Acids. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/alpha-hydroxy-acids